I’m With The Band
Gallery: High School Bands [3 Images] Click any image to expand.
School Music Programs Add Spirit
By: Jeanne Claire Solis
Imagine Mardi Gras parades without marching bands. Absurd! How about Friday night football half-times without the shows? Ridiculous! School bands are an integral part of parades, sports events, fairs and festivals in south Louisiana. There’s an undeniable excitement in the air as band members lift their instruments to perform their latest showpiece while color guards spin their flags. Stir in some tuba-wrapped players blasting out bass notes from big, swinging horns on a 50-yard line. Add a dash of baton wielding drum majors high stepping to funky dance moves under street lights draped with beads. It’s a cool, entertaining mix.
But once upon a time, marching band members were not considered the coolest kids by the standards of their bystander peers. They were derogatorily labeled “band nerds,” “band geeks,” “bandies” or even worse, nothing at all.
Thankfully, times have changed and the stereotype no longer applies. As it turns out, those “crazy kids who walk in step” can be among the most fun and successful people you’ll ever know. Being a “band nerd” in the 21st century is now an enviable label of talent, pride and achievement.
Walk A Mile In A Band Uniform
For many students, school bands are the main form of music education available to them. Research has shown the correlation between music and mathematical thinking, so it’s appreciated by educators. Yet funding for music programs in schools is an ongoing challenge.
Recognizing the importance of music programs to academic excellence and culture, institutions like Catholic High School in New Iberia are embracing new solutions. One solution is the recent recruitment of Christian Bautista as CHS band director. Bautista is a former member of the New Orleans Jesuit High School Band and the LSU Marching Band.
Growing up musically in New Orleans, the old “band nerd” label just doesn’t resonate with Bautista. He explains the 21st century education theory of engaging students in a holistic 3-fold process in the music program, and there is nothing “nerdy” about it. “We aim to educate intellectually, emotionally and kinesthetically,” says Bautista. “There are few better ways to do that than through music.”
In 2011, CHS launched a music education curriculum that includes a band component. From 5th to 12th grades, all CHS students now have the opportunity to participate in band. At the 4th grade level they have a music class.
For uniforms, equipment and transportation costs, the expenses average about $1,400 per year, according to Jennifer Burris, a Lafayette High School band parent. Her daughter, Victoria Burris, is a former band bassoonist who now serves as a color guard. But the investment is worth it, according to the Burris family who participates in annual band fundraising activities.
To alleviate the amount of money that parents must personally contribute, band booster clubs organize car washes, food sales and sponsorships to offset overall expenses. It’s a universal reality that school bands, like sports and clubs, need broad community support to stay afloat....or ahead of a float if it’s a parade.
Bautista also believes that long-term interest in band depends on a school’s proximity to a larger college or university that offers a solid band program, such as UL Lafayette or LSU. New Iberia and New Orleans are very different in community music options, like jazz exposure, says Bautista about music education and funding. But students with a passion for the experience can find ways to make it happen despite the miles or money.
From Gator Land To Grammys
Jazz education has long been a vital part of school band programs. Jazz ensembles often serve as ambassadors for the school band program, even in the south Louisiana bayous. For Tony Daigle, a Lafayette recording engineer and musician, raised along rural Pierre Part bay, being a member of the Assumption High School jazz band in the 1970s launched his now metropolitan career.
That career has resulted in multiple Grammy music awards, recording nominations, international travel and interaction with uniquely talented people.
Grammys aside, being named ‘Most Valuable Player’ of the Jazz Ensemble at the AHS’s Summer Band Camp is among his fondest musical memories.
In an era when “band nerds” weren’t considered cool, Daigle says he was a “band nerd” playing the tenor saxophone. He had the same band director from elementary through high school.
Marching in New Orleans Mardi Gras parades such as Rex, rain or shine, are also among his school band memories. With support from his family supplemented by performance and technical gigs, he later majored in classical guitar at Loyola University in New Orleans, then finished college near Nashville with a Recording Industry Management degree.
“Like other groups, there are cool people and not so cool people, and the same applies to band members,” says Daigle. “I’m proud to have been a ‘band nerd,’ but it wasn’t so cool or popular when I was in high school.”
One Time, At Band Camp...
Movies such as “American Pie: Band Camp” highlight old stereotypes associated with “band nerds.” Today’s modern encyclopedias and dictionaries confirm the new reality regarding the description: “Band Nerd.”
“In fact, it has become a label of pride for many band members, being found on T-shirts, bumper stickers, etc.” says Wikipedia. “Sometimes used as an insult however it is also considered a term of affection as well,” says Urban Dictionary.
“Band Nerds” have overcome their stereotype, today they are talented individuals devoted to their music, their band mates and their audiences.
“Being a ‘band nerd’ never bothered me,” admits Candace Comeaux, who played in the Lafayette High School band. “I liked playing my instrument and I loved the friends I made. The band was cool to many outsiders, so being a ‘band nerd’ was even cooler. Well, cooler to those of us in the band!” laughs Comeaux.
Comeaux fondly recalls her high school life revolving around the band room, with intense practice sessions, time spent doing homework, eating lunches and visiting with fellow band members now classified as her BFFs (Best Friends Forever).
“Our band director, Mr. Walker, built the band up as though we were family. We laughed together, cried together, and even in the worst of times, we got sick together.”
From the tiniest horn to the largest drum, every band member’s role mattered. It is a lesson that has carried over to Comeaux’s current staff position in the Development Department at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Emphasizing the importance of teamwork, Comeaux says, “We were all pieces of a puzzle in band, and if any one of us was out of place, then the puzzle didn’t fit.”
La Nouvelle Musique
Ronnie Romero, owner of Ronnie’s Music in New Iberia, is also a strong supporter of music education in schools. His natural progression into the music world was solidified in the New Iberia Senior High school band. He eventually assumed leadership in his family’s business, originally called Romero’s Music.
The portion of the store’s business related to school bands has been steady over the years, says Romero, and the interest in school bands has grown over time. But he has also noticed a shift due to technology and the availability of instruments for purchase on the internet.
“The main issue is that people may see any old clarinet online, and think they’re all the same, when they’re not,” explains Romero. “Then we see those instruments come into the store for repairs with a lot more problems.” In the store, Romero says, experts can help people to find the right instrument. And as far as being a ‘band nerd,’ Romero chuckles, saying, “It’s not so bad to be in the band anymore.”
Although expensive, parade performances and national competition trips provide experiences that Acadiana students and parents might not otherwise have.
Some never return to New York or California again, but those students got to visit through the band. In the process, they gain travel memories that can last a lifetime.
If time is money, then parents and students pay with that too, putting countless hours into practicing and fund-raising. For LHS color-guard Victoria Burris, the band commitment is equivalent to a part-time job, averaging 20-plus hours a week throughout the school year. For parents who make the volunteer commitments, they often find their financial burden lighter and their list of new friends longer from the experience.
“Seeing the results of their hard work is rewarding and worth the investment. They’re amazing!” says band mom Burris. For her daughter, seeing the dotted diagrams on a paper turn into a colorful choreographed show within weeks is incredibly fulfilling. Placing 11th out of 92 bands at the invitational 2011 Grand National Marching Band Competition was icing on the cake.
So march on “bandies.” Be proud of your talent and involvement in the school band, and don’t be afraid to show it, it may take you places one day.